So this was kind of an impromptu decision, but I’m going to write reviews for all five of the books I picked for my Feminist Lit February TBR. I’ve been wanting to write more reviews but never seem to actually do it, and there’s something about writing this batch of reviews that has me really excited.
First up is Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif. The primary draw of this book is that al-Sharif was a leader in the Women2Drive movement in Saudi Arabia and was arrested for driving a car as a woman, but this memoir is so much more than that, offering a glimpse into what it’s like to grow up as a Saudi woman.
Sometimes this book was really hard for me to read. It was heartbreaking to read about the frequent beatings that al-Sharif had to endure growing up and the mutilation of her genitals, but just as difficult were all of the ways that she was taught that women are second-class citizens and that she’s not worth anything more than her womb.
I particularly struggled with the chapters on her experience as an extremist Muslim. Her brainwashing read like a dystopian novel, only it wasn’t fiction; it was real, and people are genuinely taught to be that hateful and narrow minded, and it’s heartbreaking to think of everything that’s lost from such a standpoint. Imagine what all of these people could be if they’d been nurtured and encouraged to make the world a better place to live for everyone instead of taught to put an extreme religion above the lives of the people around you.
I want to be more open-minded to other ways of life, but reading about how the education of women was so summarily dismissed was beyond frustrating. The obstacles they had to overcome in order to learn made me want to scream and gave me a new appreciation for all of the educational opportunities I’ve been given in my life.
I also really struggled with the separation of genders in Saudi Arabia, as it’s something I can’t wrap my head around. So much of the language used to justify it seems to me to be women shaming and sex shaming while promoting men as superior beings, and I’m just not ok with that. Though I’ll give Saudi Arabia (at least the Saudi Arabia portrayed in this book) credit for being very overt about their sexism, instead of trying to pretend it doesn’t exist as so often happens in the United States.
This book offers a really interesting glimpse into Saudi life and what the women their have to go through to get even a fraction of what the men do, and al-Sharif’s story is incredibly powerful and inspiring. I definitely think it’s a must read for those interested in learning about the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia, from a female perspective, as well as for anyone interested in putting feminism and gender equality on a more global perspective.
As much as I enjoyed it, it did suffer from a few drawbacks for me. One was the writing style, which actually isn’t this book’s fault. I generally found the writing style to be pretty clear and straightforward and didn’t have any problems with it, it’s just that I read Hunger a few weeks ago, and Roxane Gay set the bar so high that it’s going to take a while for me to go back to reading memoirs without automatically comparing them to Hunger.
The most glaring issue for me was that, while the book gives a good look at how someone can become an extremist Muslim, I didn’t think al-Sharif did as thorough of a job showing how an extremist becomes a liberal activist. I would have liked more insight into how she undid the years of brainwashing that she was brought up with. I also thought a few details got lost, like what exactly happened with al-Sharif’s sister, who seemed to virtually disappear from the story.
Overall, though, I thought this was an excellent read and definitely recommend checking it out. And you should check out her speech accepting the Oslo Freedom Forum’s Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. Daring to Drive was a great first pick for Feminist Lit February!